Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some things we heard from Sen. Sessions in Day 1 of his confirmation hearing for Attorney General

Senator Jeff Sessions took some heat from Democrats in the first day of his confirmation hearing to be Donald Trump's Attorney General.   Here are some things we learned from him.

1.   He says that it's his name, plus the fact that he's from South Alabama, that make people assume that he's racist.   You see, his name is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III -- sounds like he just stepped out of the pages of Gone With the Wind, doesn't it?   But, in fact, there are a few more things than his name and home town that suggest racism.

2.   He approved of the Supreme Court's decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.   He says that law is "intrusive," because it does not apply to all states.   That's not exactly true.   The basic voting rights apply to all states.   The special requirements to get DOJ clearance to change any of their voting procedures is limited to certain states -- those that have proved in the past that, if not watched, they will enact racially unfair laws and practices.  And that is exactly what a number of states have done since the laws was gutted by SCOTUS.

3.  Sessions has a record of blocking judicial appointments of African-Americans for federal judge appointments.   In 1985 as an Alabama prosecutor, he tried unsuccessfully to convict black civil rights activists of fraud, including a Martin Luther King, Jr. aide.

4.  In 1986, his nomination to be a federal judge was denied confirmation by the senate because of several instances in which he had displayed racial bias in things he had done and said.    He now says that he did not do any of those things and that he simply had not prepared well for his hearings.   But the charges stuck as credible.   They included witnesses who had heard him refer to a black attorney as "boy;" suggest that a white lawyer with black clients was a "race traitor," and claim that civil rights groups were "un-American" and trying to "force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them."

5.  Senator Feinstein (D-CA) raised a broader concern.   As reported by Michael McAuliff for the Huffington Post, Feinstein opposes Sessions' confirmation because of his siding with Trump in barring all Muslims from entry into the U.S.    Also because he voted against banning torture;  because he opposes Roe v. Wade;   because he twice opposed humane immigration laws affecting families;  because he voted against three bipartisan immigration bills.

6.  In addition Sessions voted against the Matthew Shepard hate crimes law.   He opposes the concept of "hate crimes," saying hate crimes are "thought crimes."  He has also said he saw no evidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Matthew Shepard's mother wrote an open letter, stating that Sessions' nomination is antithetical to the bipartisan effort to stop hate.   She wrote:   "My son was not killed by 'thoughts' or because his murderers said hateful things.   My son was brutally beaten . . . and left to die in freezing temperature because he was gay.  Senator Sessions’ repeated efforts to diminish the life-changing acts of violence covered by the Hate Crimes Prevention Act horrified me then, as a parent who knows the true cost of hate, and it terrifies me today to see that this same person is now being nominated as the country’s highest authority to represent justice and equal protection under the law for all Americans."

7.  Sen. Feinstein pointed out that Sessions' past actions reflect an outlook that he will bring to the job of enforcing laws for a president whose election has caused widespread alarm at some of these same proposals.    Sessions countered by saying that he can, and will, enforce laws that he had once opposed as a senator.

Like Justice Antonin Scalia, who thought his judicial decisions were not at all affected by his own emotions or biases, Sen. Sessions is naive to think that he can be unaffected by his biases.

Yes, perhaps he can make a conscious decision to enforce laws he opposes;  perhaps he might even appoint a strong civil rights activists to head that division.   But there will be times -- some of the most important times -- when the AG is called upon to make the final call on a controversial decision -- about whether, for example, to open a federal investigation into racial bias in a police department in Ferguson, MO.

We need to have someone whose true sensibilities are for equality and justice for all.   I do not want an unapologetic and unrepentant Beauregard making those delicate calls -- especially with a president who will be tweeting and exerting pressure in the other direction on just such important decisions.

Sessions said that he would be able to stand up to a president -- but what is there in his prior life and actions that suggests he actually would?  Especially when he really agrees with that president?  This is one place that we need to consider who someone is, not just what he says he can do.


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